No invitation necessary, just hard work
For all the knocks against Detroit -- its economy, crime rate, etc. -- our hometown remains an extraordinary sports town. Not just because of the way the fans here consume sports, but also in the way that Detroit athletes become larger-than-life fixtures in the community.
Just look at Darren McCarty. The guy was a grinder for the Red Wings with some everyday-Joe-type personal problems, and he's been so embraced by Detroit sports fans that he sits in regularly on 97.1 The Ticket, the FM sports-talk radio station.
We guess you could say the hardworking people of Detroit identify with gritty athletes -- especially those who win titles, such as Joe Dumars, Bill Laimbeer and Chris Chelios.
Steve Yzerman actually walked on the water of the Detroit River once -- -- OK, not really, it just seemed that way to Red Wings fans -- and even though he works in Tampa Bay now as the general manager of the Lightning, he remains the secret dreamy fantasy of mothers and fathers alike throughout Metro Detroit … while their children sleep soundly dreaming of Tigers ace Justin Verlander.
Dave Bing, a former Piston, is now the mayor of Detroit. A Detroit sporting legend and successful businessman stepping in to do right by the people as their former mayor sits in jail.
Lately, however, Detroit fans have had fewer athletes to get behind. The best player on the Tigers (and one of the best in all of Major League Baseball) keeps on having alcohol-related run-ins with the law. Even if first baseman Miguel Cabrera had managed to keep his nose clean, he just doesn't seem to have the relatable qualities of the other stars who are beloved by most Detroit fans.
This past season, the Pistons put a lineup on the court every night that was laughably poor. There was a player mutiny, a bunch of aging role players surrounded by whiny young players, and an owner who was as interested in winning as she is in Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. A series of baffling moves by general manager Joe Dumars didn't help matters as he stuck by the major disappointment that is Rodney Stuckey and signed Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon to what seemed like ridiculously generous contracts.
The Red Wings are a power, it's true, but there really isn't a player on the team who the fans are crazy for these days. This may be because of the fact that the expectations are so high for them, that anything short of a title leaves fans in a huff until the next season begins.
Which brings us to the NFL, the lockout, the Detroit Lions and Dre' Bly.
Bly is not on an NFL roster, which makes his showing up to the Lions' player-scheduled team workouts all the more interesting. You see, Bly had a breakout year for the Lions in 2005 and then quite literally broke out of town only to fall short of his '05 season's standards and disappoint wherever he went.
What Detroit sports fans remember most, however, are the comments that Bly spouted before the cornerback left. He trashed then-quarterback Joey Harrington and the organization, deriding the city and spurning the fan base. When Bly came back in 2009, Lions fans were prepared to forgive him, but performance was spotty and he became an afterthought. He was cut at the end of training camp last year and never landed anywhere else.
When the Lions began their team-run practices a few weeks ago, there were no defensive backs for the first two days. On the third day, there was Bly. So is Bly coming back to what he feels is a weak roster full of holes as some sort of scheming way to return to the NFL even though his skills and speed have diminished?
It's true, Bly could be seen as a desperate former adulterous husband coming back to grovel for his wife's forgiveness after he's grown a bit too old to philander. We, however, choose to see him as a prizefighter who has suffered a few consecutive losses, but is training for his final bout and aiming to win back the hearts of the people.
Maybe Dre' Bly has turned a corner in his personal life and wants to create a legacy in Detroit. It's certainly possible that he sees Detroit as a blank canvas for him to paint his masterpiece of charitable work and community involvement.
Maybe Bly isn't even as undesired and past his prime as the world thinks. Maybe he can sneak his way into training camp like Willie "Mays" Hayes did in the movie "Major League" and return to his 2005 form. And someday, maybe he can even become the governor of the state of Michigan.
Joshua Epstein and Daniel Zott of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. are contributing a weekly sports blog for ESPN Music. The Detroit indie dance-pop -- or hip-hop folk -- duo just released "It's A Corporate World," and they might soon be making a pit stop in a town near you.
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